How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 12


HMS Destiny, 54,

Off Scrabble Shoal,

Grand Duchy of Silkiah


          “Pull, you lazy bastards!” Stywyrt Mahlyk, Sir Dunkyn Yairley’s personal coxswain, shouted as the thirty-foot longboat porpoised its way through the confused waves and spray like a seasick kraken. Hector Aplyn-Ahrmahk, crouching in the bow and hanging on for dear life while Destiny‘s starboard sheet anchor weighted down the longboat’s stern and accentuated the boat’s . . . lively movement, thought Mahlyk sounded appallingly cheerful under the circumstances.

          “Think this is a blow?!” the coxswain demanded of the laboring oarsmen in scoffing tones as the boat’s forward third went briefly airborne across a wave crest, then slammed back down again. “Why, you sorry Delferahkan excuses for sailor men! I’ve farted worse weather than this!”

          Despite their exertion and the spray soaking them to the skin, one or two of the oarsmen actually managed a laugh. Mahlyk was amazingly popular with Destiny‘s crew, despite his slavedriver mentality where Captain Yairley’s cutter was concerned. At the moment, he’d traded in the cutter for the larger and more seaworthy longboat, but he’d brought along the cutter’s crew, and there was no insult to which he could lay his tongue that didn’t make them smile. In point of fact, his crew took simple pride in his ability to out-swear any other member of the ship’s company when the mood took him.

          Which, alas, it did far more often than not, if the truth be known, especially when the captain wasn’t about.

          He and Aplyn-Ahrmahk were old friends, and the ensign remembered an incendiary raid on an Emeraldian port in which he and Mahlyk had torched a half-dozen warehouses and at least two taverns. They’d tossed incendiaries into three galleons, as well, as he recalled, but they hadn’t been the only ones firing the ships, so they couldn’t claim solo credit for them. Their current expedition was somewhat less entertaining than that one had been, but it was certainly no less exciting.

          The longboat swooped up another steep wave, leaving Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s stomach briefly behind, and the ensign turned to look back at the galleon. Destiny pitched and rolled to her bower anchors with all the elegance of a drunken pig, masts and yards spiraling crazily against the clouds. She looked truncated and incomplete with her upper masts struck, but she was still one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen. More importantly at the moment, Lieutenant Lathyk stood on the forecastle, a semaphore flag tucked under his arm, watching the boat from under a shading palm while Lieutenant Symkee used one of the new sextants the Royal College had recently introduced as a successor to the old back staff to measure the angle between the longboat and the buoys marking the positions of the bower anchors. As Aplyn-Ahrmahk watched, Lathyk took the flag from under his arm and raised it slowly over his head.

          “Ready, Mahlyk!” the ensign called.

          “Aye, Sir!” the coxswain acknowledged, and reached for the lanyard with his left hand while his right fist gripped the tiller bar. Another minute passed. Then another. Then —

          The flag in Lathyk’s hand waved.

          “Let go!” Aplyn-Ahrmahk shouted, and the longboat surged suddenly as Mahlyk jerked the lanyard which toggled the trigger and released the three-ton sheet anchor from the heavy davit rigged in the longboat’s stern. It plunged into the water, well up to windward of the more weatherly of the two anchors Destiny had already dropped, and the longboat seemed to shake itself in delight at having shed the irksome load.

          “Stream the buoy!” Aplyn-Ahrmahk ordered, and the anchor buoy was heaved over the side behind the sheet anchor.

          Although the longboat moved much more easily without the anchor’s hanging weight and the drag of the cable trailing astern, there were still a few tricky moments as Mahlyk brought it about. But the coxswain chose his moment carefully, using wind and wave action to help drive the boat around, and then they were pulling strongly back towards Destiny.

Aplyn-Ahrmahk sat on the bow thwart, looking aft past Mahlyk at the brightly painted anchor buoy, which got progressively smaller with distance, disappearing in the troughs of the waves, then bobbing back into sight. Boat work was always risky in blowing weather like this, but on a lee shore, with the entire rudder carried away and a bottom where anchors were known to drag, the notion of getting a third anchor laid out made plenty of sense to him. Of course, he did wonder how he’d ended up selected for the delightful task. Personally, he would cheerfully have declined the honor in favor of Tohmys Tymkyn, Destiny‘s fourth lieutenant. But Tymkyn was busy with the galleon’s pinnace, locating and buoying the spire of rock which had claimed the ship’s rudder. He was having at least as exciting a time of it as Aplyn-Ahrmahk, and the ensign wondered if the two of them had been chosen because they were so junior they’d be less badly missed if one or both of them didn’t make it home again.

          I’m sure I’m doing the Captain a disservice, he told himself firmly, wiping spray from his face, and then smiled as he wondered how Sir Dunkyn was going to react to his upcoming little show of initiative. I can always blame it on Stywyrt, he thought hopefully. Sir Dunkyn’s known him long enough to realize what a corrupting influence he can be on a young and innocent officer such as myself.

          “Pull! Langhorne — I thought you were seamen!” Mahlyk bawled, as if on cue. “I’ve seen dockside doxies with stronger backs! Aye, and legs, too!”

          Aplyn-Ahrmahk shook his head in resignation.

* * * * * * * * * *

          Sir Dunkyn Yairley watched with carefully concealed relief as the longboat was swayed back aboard. The pinnace followed, nesting inside the longboat on the gallows of spare spars above the main hatch. The cutters on the quarter and stern davits would have been much easier to get out and in again, especially with the deck so cluttered with the yards and sails which had been sent down from above to reduce topweight, and they probably would have sufficed. But they might not have, either, in these sea conditions, and he was disinclined to take chances with men’s lives, whether the rules of the game allowed him to show his concern or not.

          And they definitely wouldn’t have sufficed for what that young idiot pulled after dropping the sheet anchor! he thought sourly.

          He considered reprimanding Aplyn-Ahrmahk. The ensign and that scapegrace ne’er-do-well Mahlyk had taken it upon themselves to sweep the seabed north of Destiny with a grappling iron-weighted trailing line which should (in theory, at least) have snagged on any rocks rising high enough to be a threat to the galleon even at low tide. As a result, Yairley now knew he had over a mile of rock-free clear water for maneuvering room to the north of his current position.

They hadn’t happened to ask permission for that little escapade, and they’d almost capsized twice before they’d finished, and the captain was severely torn between a warm sense of pride in a youngster who’d become one of his special protégés and anger at both of them for risking their lives and their entire boat’s crew without authorization.

          Well, time enough to make my mind up about that later, he decided. And in the meantime, I’ll just concentrate on putting the fear of Shan-wei into the young jackanapes.

          He paused long enough to give Aplyn-Ahrmahk a steely-eyed glare as a down payment, then turned back to the task of creating a jury-rigged rudder.

          Maikel Symmyns had gotten a spare main topgallant yard laid across the quarterdeck so that its arms jutted out through the aftermost gunports on either side, supported with “lifts” to the mizzen mast and guys running forward to the main chains. Hanging blocks had been secured to either end of the spar, and the falls run forward from them through the fairleads under the wheel. Several turns had been taken around the barrel of the wheel, and then the free ends of the falls had been seized to the staple at the midpoint of the drum to anchor everything firmly.